Saturday, November 30, 2013


Labels are often helpful, and sometimes essential, as on luggage and on bottles for wine or medicine. Yet no-one likes to be "labeled" I dislike those labels that are stuck on apples and other edibles. They can be missed and left on the food. Barbara tells me of an occasion in which her former husband claimed she had made him a "label sandwich". I can understand that when there are similar items at a different price, those labels assist the checkers to ring up the right amount. But that is a rare occurrence: mostly the labels are not needed for that purpose. Buying the labels and occurring the cost of labor to affix them to each piece of fruit is, in my opinion, a waste of money. Labels are useful if one is sharing a refrigerator with someone. They can also be useful indicators of quality: Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch Whisky is good: Black Label is better! I recently was asked to remove the two labels stuck on an apple. One came off easily; the other was firmly embedded, so that I gouged the apple, trying to get the label off. A relative told us of a three-label item. It was probably an apple, with one label identifying the variety, one showing the price or numeric code, and one announcing to the world that it was "Organic".

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Early last week, I had what seemed like an insect bite, but it didn't start to disappear: it increased in size and discomfort.. By Friday evening it was a significant and itchy rash. I didn't feel that an emergency room visit was called for, but a call was made to Kaiser's Richmond dermatology department, and i was fitted in for a Monday appointment at 4::45 p.m.. My regular dermatologist was not available, but the young man who took her place was excellent. He was virtually certain that I was suffering from Shingles, a diagnosis later confirmed by a biopsy. If one has had chickenpox, as I had before WWll, one is liable to suffer later in life from Shingles. Some years ago, I had taken medical advice to have an anti-Shingles inoculation. This doesn't prevent one catching the ailment, but it lessens the effect. For my comfort, the rash was smeared with Vaseline, and then covered with gauze and loosely bandaged. I also began a course of anti-viral tablets--five a day for a week. Despite the itch, I have had my usual good night's sleep every night. I removed the dressing on Friday to take a shower. In other words, I have easily endured a mild case of Shingles, a condition which is often very painful and may last a long time. If you have had chickenpox, I strongly recommend you to be inoculated..

Monday, November 11, 2013

have never been a great fan of Charles Dickens, preferring the work of his near-contemporary, Anthony Trollope. I have seen movies or TV serials of most of Dickens's best-known works: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and Nicholas Nickleby. I long ago read and enjoyed Pickwick Papers. There are other authors, some still living, whose work has always been a priority for my reading list.. First, it was John Buchan years ago, and then Graham Greene. I have read every book written by John Le Carré, and I'm on a waiting list for the last in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series. I have read all the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli novels of Laurie R. King, and every one of the Patrick O'Brian naval novels. So I have begun to tackle more of Charles Dickens, starting with A Tale Of Two Cities. I hope to read Barnaby Rudge and Martin Chuzzlewit.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

As I wrote this recently, a strike was in progress in our area. BART, the commuter rail system used by hundreds of thousands every day, reducing highway traffic congestion and contributing to a thriving local economy, was shut down. To make matters worse, the AC Transit (bus) workers had also given notice of a strike. A headline in the local newspaper sums up the attitude of most citizens: "Disgusted!". In my working life, as a Naval Officer and then in the insurance business, I was never inconvenienced by a strike: they are prohibited in the armed services and the insurance business is generally not unionized. My wife was involved in a strike as a member of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the more militant of two competing teachers' unions. (She voted against the strike, which achieved nothing that could not have been resolved by negotiation.) I generally have negative feelings about strikes. I have certainly been influenced by my upbringing in the UK. I was born less than a year after the notorious General Strike of May 1926, but I grew up hearing stories about the middle-class heroes who drove buses, delivered milk or bread, and kept life going for the nine days of the strike. Unions often held sway in Britain, with practices damaging to the economy, such as "featherbedding"--employers being forced to hire more employees than are needed. (Thanks to the "Iron Lady"--Mrs. Thatcher--the unions' stranglehold on efficiency has largely been eliminated in recent years.) I would argue with myself that anyone had the right to withhold his or her labor, and that to do that in concert with others was a just riposte to the bargaining power of employers. Nevertheless, I remain opposed to strikes, especially if they cause loss of income to workers in other fields. Police and firemen are not allowed to strike, and I believe that the same strictures should apply to transit workers.